Sorry Hina, many apologies for being this late despite all your messages. As I told Malvika, I rise out of dust of ages!!!
Really sorry guys for this long a wait for this one. Things at work were pretty heated up for the last few weeks. and for a free-lance writer, any work is good news but it does eat up time :-).
Here is the last chapter of my dear, dear story “Unforgettable.” It has been an unforgettable year long journey and to think that when I started this FF I thought, 10 chapters – 15 max!! I hope you all enjoyed it and many more still will. I am going to keep the blog open for some time more.
I am not sure if I will do an epilogue. THis chapter was difficult because I kept feeling that I was not doing it justice….I wanted the reunion to be grand, earth shattering one. But my words failed. So here it is.
Last but not the least, dont be strangers after this. I am in process of editing ‘Dust of ages.’ I have to shorten it by nearly 10,000 words. ANy editors out there? Tips? As I said, it is going to be out by the end of the year. Will keep all updated about it here or on my twitter handle (@vandanasaxena31). I hope we can all meet again to meet to discuss that other twin of ‘Unforgettable.’
Meanwhile since this is done, I will now concentrate on ICHTW and will start updating it soon. 🙂
And now, here goes Chapter 33.
If Autumn comes, can Spring be far behind. (P.B Shelley)
And then…. His heart beat stopped for a while only to resume its dhak dhak with an intensity that echoed through his entire being. The words…the voice…the breeze that touched him with the message of her presence.
‘Hariprakashji, Arnavji aagaye? Is he ok? Has he come from Mumbai? Where is he?’
Khushi rushed in and froze….just like the man, who stood frozen some distance away.
This feeling of breath whooshing out of her was old and familiar now.
She had felt it so many times over the years after that first time when she had fallen off the ramp and into the arms of a dark forbidding stranger, the angry man whom she had met at the dargah….and then some months ago, when the stare of the very same eyes had begun the painful awakening her mind.
Fear, anger, reluctance, dislike – there were so many emotions she had come to associate with this feeling.
Over the last two years, they had explore each of these emotions to the hilt – feared immensely, hated from the core, lived through the burning anger. The strong and powerful emotions tied them together; that overcame that nascent something that lay beneath – something they had never given a chance, never explored.
nafrat ke us mahaul mein … kuch to hai … jo humse kehta hai ki …
iss ansuni, anjaane se, ankahe se ehsaas ko ek mauka toh do …
AT the moment, seeing him after two months, Khushi felt neither fear, nor anger …only a sense of relief, tiredness – a pleasant sense of lethargy that one feels when one finally comes home. That nascent something woke from a long slumber and looked around hopefully. She was home.
‘Arnavji,’ she rushed to him. She was home. She was where she belonged.
Arnav too felt the familiar shock. The last time he felt it was in Sheesh Mahal when he had found her – injured, broken but there – alive. And he had set out to get her back – to undo the mistakes of his past.
Over the last two months he had tried to make his peace with the past, that even ASR could not change, and the present, which is so inextricably tied to the past. He had been serious when he told her that he would wait for her for a lifetime. She deserved her chance.
But that did not make it easy for him– living with this loneliness.
So after his last mail, he had decided that he would establish some contact. Talk to her, probably visit Lucknow on pretext of work – he could live, moving from one brief moment of respite to another that her sight and voice would bring. Who could begrudge him such small pleasures?
But now….now she was back. Like so many other times, he saw her stepping in in Shantivan, her eyes darting around for him, always for him.
And he knew in that moment – none of his self-sacrifcing schemes would work; none of those distant relationships. He was not a platonic soul. He wanted it all – he wanted all of her.
For a moment the angry ASR reared up. Khushi Kumari Gupta had had her chance. Now it was his turn. His eyes darted to Hariprakash, who was watching Khushi in surprise as she asked him about Arnavji. Arnav wanted to shout at him to close the door, as ASR dragged Khushi Kumari Gupta to their room and told her that he had had enough. Now that she was back, she had to stay with him. Hell, he could lock her up she denied.
Thoughts and scenes scrambled in his mind though he stood frozen watching her hurry in. Locking her up wouldn’t work – tying her to himself with force– he had lived through the consequences. Khushi Kumari Gupta would fight and fight till either of them gave up.
Arnav saw her see him, the shock and then his name in her voice as she moved towards him – relief and pleasure shining in her eyes as they roamed over him, the thirst for him in her soft voice.
Perhaps….perhaps, he wouldn’t have to force her….hope slowly shook its wings and he took a step forward. ‘Khushi…’
She ran to him, spurred by the sound of his voice.
‘Arnavji,’ she came to stand a breath away. Too far. Her hands came to touch his face. ‘aap…aap theek toh ho?’
The relief in her voice puzzled him. But Arnav ignored it for now as he leaned into her hand, soaked its warmth and held his own arms stiffly to stop them from hauling her to him.
‘Y…Yes, Khushi, how come…why…why are you here?’
She said nothing but continued to look at him. Taking in slightly gaunt face, he had lost some weight, forgotton to shave for a few days perhaps. Did she smell alchol? But Jeeji said he wasn’t going that way any more. Probably she did not know. And…and he had fainted two days ago….he wasn’t looking after himself…
‘Khushi, Did you come alone?’
She shook her head still engrossed in him. ‘Amanji,’ she was still dazed. ‘He came to take his family to Lucknow.’
‘But what happened?’
‘They…they said you …they would not say….I…Di said you were unwell. You fainted a day before going to Mumbai.’
‘A day before…but it was two weeks ago…’
‘You haven’t been looking after yourself.’ The other hand came up to his other cheek. Khushi stood there as if in a dream….all her anger, her reluctance forgotton when she saw him. ‘Di said…and you also…you did not reply to my phone calls, my messages. I thought…you…’
‘I lost my phone, Khushi,’ He let his hand creep up and join hers near his face. ‘And there was some problem with the email…I asked Akaash to…’
‘Akaash Jeeju said you were unwell but you inisisted on going to Mumbai.’
‘But Akaash knew…I don’t know what…’
‘But I know, Arnavji. You never listen to anyone,’ Khushi snatched back the hand he had been holding against his cheek before stepping back. ‘You do whatever you want. To hell with people who care…’
A sliver of irritation surfaced in Arnav’s eyes as he felt her withdraw, missed the warmth of her hand. And…and how dare she shout at him when he had been longing for her every moment of the…
‘And Scotland…’ Khushi went on. ‘You call up Jeeju to tell us that you are going to Scotland. All of a sudden, no need to let anyone know…’
‘But Akaash knew I was going to Scotland long time back,’ he yelled.
‘How does it matter,’ Khushi continued as if he had not spoken. ‘How does it matter what the rest of us felt…Di was so worried. Naniji…all…But for you, your business, your AR, your deals….’
Khushi turned away towards the door, irritated beyond care. And why should she care, if the man in question was so insensitive that he did not even realize that his family had been worried…that she had been…
It was an error, turning away and walking towards the door.
‘Khushi…’ that was all she heard, before the man walked in front of her and hauled her up against him, his arms around her, holding her still in his vice-like grip, not permitting her to move an inch….away from him.
‘Don’t you dare walk out of this door. Not now…not ever again. We…we are still talking.’
‘Talking!….you have not been talking, Arnavji, for …for so many days and …and now you,’ the overwhelming feeling of warmth, of being in his arms after such a long time, it was her undoing ‘Arnavji, Do you know what I have been…..you…you were going to Scotland. Di said you were unwell and …and yesterday you called up, like …like last time…you just said….’ Khushi choked before giving up the battle with tears. She held the lapels of his shirt and sobbed against his neck and shirt.
The anger drained at the sight of her tears. Things fell in place. Oh God. She must was worried. Last time when he went to Scotland, despite all her pleas, things had fallen apart. And yesterday, he just called and said….. How stupid of him! She, Khushi, must have lived through those days again. How insensitive he was. And Di, Akaash, in fact each one of his crazy family must have worked on anxieties to send her here.
‘Khushi,’ Arnav rested his cheek against her head as his hands roamed over the back and he murmured words of comfort. ‘Where will I go without you? I would always be here, waiting for you…wherever you leave me. I, Khushi, you left… and ….and forgot….’
Khushi shook her head and cried harder. Her hands came to clutch his shoulders.
‘But now that you have come back…I should tell you something.’
‘What?’ she murmured between the sobs.
‘Khushi Kumari Gupta, you have lost.’
Khushi looked up puzzled. He was smiling – that half smile of his – that endearing smirking half smile.
‘You lost to your sister and mine. It must have been there plan to send you here…’
‘P…plan…’ Now that he said so, it did seem like one…
‘Just like the one you played on Payal,’ Khushi looked at him. ‘To get her to agree for the marriage…’
Yes, it made sense. Her wet eyes narrowed. Suddenly all that…that overacting made sense.
‘But you know what, Khushi…I am not complaining.’
Her mouth opened in outrage before his lips settled on herss.
Words lost meaning, plans forgotton, thoughts scattered, as two souls – hungry and parched – discovered fulfillment. Oh, Arnav and Khushi still fought, complainted, teased and taunted, in a way old and primitive as time – still testing each other to the limit. Was it a few moments, hours…days before they came up? They had to breathe too.
‘You cannot go back now, Khushi.’ Arnav said when they came up for air. ‘You made your decision when you rushed here. I will not let you leave now….’
‘Arnavji, I made my decision before that…but you…you weren’t there to listen.’
‘I am sorry ….’ Arnav muttered, his heart rejoicing at her words as he bent to brush his lips against hers.
‘Don’t go…’ she murmured against his rough lips. ‘Don’t go to Scotland….’
‘Come with me….’
‘Yes. Just you and me,’ no longer content at the flimsy touch, Arnav once against settled his mouth against hers. ‘come…’
A sharp sound interrupted the two lovers. It took them a while to come out of the haze. It was Arnav’s phone.
Arnav smirked. Now that he had what he wanted, his brother did deserve a minor heart attack. Mischief twinkled in Khushi’s eyes as she pointed towards herself and shook her head.
Arnav nodded and picked up the phone.
‘Akaash,’ Arnav managed in a bored tone.
‘Akaash. Are you there?’
‘Come on, if you just have to stay silent then, I don’t have time.’
Some whispers and hissing later, Anjili came on phone.
‘Chottey,’ she said in a soft and low voice. Khushi pressed her ear against his hand that held the phone.
‘Yes, di. Are you okay?’ Arnav glanced once again at Khushi. Probably it was her spirit of mischief, he thought. It’s contagious. He turned back to what his sister was saying.
‘Chottey, are you home?’
‘Yes di. What is it? Is everything fine there….Is…is Khushi okay?’ Arnav snaked his arm around Khushi, pulling her closer and they listened through the receiver.
‘Chottey….Khushiji should be there…with you?’
‘What? Here with me…how…when….what are you saying, Di?’
Khushi buried her head in his shoulder. He felt her shake with suppressed laughter.
‘But she left this afternoon. She should be there….’
‘Di, what did you all do?’ Arnav started.
He was interrupted by a chorus of voices.
‘Aman says he dropped her outside Shantivan.’ It was Lavanaya.
‘Hey Bhagwan. Kahan hogi, Khushi bitiya?’ Nani
‘Dadi, Khushi should be there in Shantivan.’ Payal
‘But she is not there. Call Amanji again, Lavanaya.’ Anjili.
‘I told you this was wrong….’ Akaash. ‘This plan was stupid. I should have stopped but all of you dragged me into this…this…
‘Aur main toh mor bangaya….I stole Nannav’s phone…’
‘Mor nahi, Nanheji,’ Khushi burst in giggles. ‘Mor nahi….aap chor hain.’
A moment of silence on the other side as Khushi giggled and Arnav whooped in laughter.
And then the chorus again.
‘Bhai, I had a heart attack.’
‘Khushi ki bachi!’
‘Chottey, humari to jaan hi nikal gayi.’
‘Very clever, Nannav.’
‘Anjili bitiya, no need to tell them that Khushi bititya’s papers and tickets are in the topmost drawer of my shelf. Let them suffer.’
‘Jee Nani. Chottey and Khushiji, you deserve that…after all this. Understand!’
‘But they will be back before my wedding. Right guys?’
‘Ji Lavanayaji. The ticket at least says that…but you never know, especially with those two.’
And thus dear readers, we leave the two pesky lovers whose lovestory had held us enthralled. Did they stop being irritating? Did they stop fighting, hating hurting —-loving, adoring each other? Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? After all theyare Arnav and Khushi!